Saturday, February 21, 2015

IMPRESSIONS OF CUBA - PART 4

(From my journal. Please scroll down to read the previous two posts, also about my 2003 trip to Cuba)

04, January:  ESMERALDA

Today we drove out to the town of Esmeralda, about an hour and a half away from the hotel in which we were staying.  In the church in Esmeralda, they have a training class which is in their 6th or 7th book (if I remember correctly). There are ten books in all.

It is a very humble church building.  They had a room where
they met, perhaps 16 by 30 feet, where they have packed in 100 people at times.  They had expanded this room twice.

This is a church of great dreams.  What they would like to do is to build a completely new building.  Certainly it seems the best thing to do, since their present building looks like if a strong wind could get in there among all the other structures of town, it would simply collapse.  But this is not an easy goal for these
very poor people.

There is a plot of land on the main road that they would like to buy “if God permits,” as they say.  Their present church is tucked away in a hidden part of town, and they feel as if they would be more visible to the rest of the town if they were on the main road.  The plot costs $200.

They also have started two or three house churches, where they are trying to establish churches in other areas of their own town or other towns.  The government puts restrictions on the establishment of formal churches, but there seems to be no restrictions on house churches, which they refer to as “missions,” since they are a work of their church.  The leaders for these houses of praise” are being trained in their training class at the church.

They also dream of buying a farm.  There is one available for about $300.  With the farm they think that they could raise food for the people of the church, especially the widows.  Perhaps, they think, they could sell some of the produce to aid the missions programs.

I was a little surprised to learn that it is possible to own private property in Cuba, one of the last of the communist states.  Starting about 10 years ago, one man told me, it has gradually become possible to purchase a farm and to sell produce to a cooperative.  However, very, very few have any money to purchase a farm, and another person told me that private ownership is really just an illusion.  In the end, this man said, the government still controls every transaction.

05 January, Sunday:  LA FLORIDA

La Florida is a town we have driven through various times on our way to make other visits.  Today we visited this town itself, and attended church there.  It is a church of about 250 – 300, and they fill up the sanctuary.  They do have a building project next to the church, which will be a combination classroom building and home for the pastor and his family.  The pastor teaches a BTCP class of 12 people from his church.

We arrived in La Florida shortly before church and went first to the pastor’s house, but we found only his wife home making some preparations for the dinner we were to eat with them.  The pastor and his wife had suddenly decided to have a pig roast that afternoon for us and all of the BTCP class.  The pastor, it turns out, was at that moment out slaughtering the pig for the roast.  He appeared not too late for the service and one would have never known the task he had just performed.  Given the event of the morning, it seemed appropriate to me that his name was Pastor Matos, but really he was a very gentle man who was more a kind shepherd rather than a matador.

After church we went to his house for the dinner.  It was very long in preparation since it is a big task, and when they told us it would be at least an hour, I knew that it would more likely be 2 or 3 hours.  My partner and I decided to take a walk.

As I mentioned earlier, there are many very old American cars in Cuba that are still on the streets all over the country.  They seem never to show any rust, although in that island nation I am sure they need to fight oxidation just as we do in the north.  They may not have to salt the roads in the winter, but the salt air from the sea is much worse.  We experienced that with our Ford pickup the year we lived in the Bible camp on the Gulf coast of Mexico.  Unprotected, metal objects would simply rust away.

But the paint and wax finish of the old cars of Cuba reflect the tropical sun with the brilliance of a new Detroit beauty.  The beauty is greater, however, because it is not the new and sleek beauty of youth, but the more graceful and dignified beauty of maturity.  I saw many 1951 Chevrolet pickups – a vehicle that is special to me because it was the vehicle in which I learned to drive as a boy on our dairy farm, and also because it was made in a very good year.  I also was born that year.  I think it must have been a good year both for cars and babies.

But the oldest car in town was a 1929 Ford.  It was parked
on the side of the street in front of the admiring eyes of the owner and his family who were sitting on the sidewalk.  It was painted bright red.  We could tell that they took great pride in it and that it was cared for very well.  “It is still plenty good to drive to Havana,” the old man told me.

Trains are also still used quite extensively both for freight
and for passengers in Cuba, so my partner and I walked over to see the train station.  Seeing again a train station was reminiscent of India to me.  No one selling chai though.  It was a little later that a train pulled into the station.  The engineer saw us admiring it and motioned for us to come up and see the engine. He showed us around and explained all of the controls to us. The train had come over from the old Soviet Union about 40 years ago.  He told me that it still had good power, and called it “a very fine machine.”

We wandered our way back to the pastor Matos’ house where the pig roast was going well and where the BTCP students had now gathered.  I think it was probably about 4:00 when we began to eat.  All of us, by this time, were quite hungry, and the food was very delicious.  After the meal we retired to a front room where we sat in a tight circle and answered some of their questions and asked some of our own.  It is a great privilege to me to get to know some of these servants of the Lord, and all in all, a very enjoyable day in La Florida.

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